Fall Home Buying Guide

If buying a home is on your fall to-do list, you'll be happy to find that fall is an ideal time for house hunting. Most people think spring and summer are the hot seasons for real estate, and regarding deal volume, they're right. Hot doesn't always mean best, though. All those spring and summer shoppers can drive prices up, and sellers are more willing to reject a low bid if they are sure another buyer will be coming along. RealtyTrac found that October was the best time to snag a deal on the house you want, with October buyers paying an average of 2.6 percent below market value, making it the cheapest month of the year or buyers.[1] Sellers who have been pushing properties through the busy spring/summer season are likely to consider a lower bid in the fall, so if you had your eye on a target over the summer and it's still available, it may be time to make a move. It's also a good time to start looking, as you'll find properties on the market that have been built or renovated over the summer construction season. Sellers are also eager to take advantage of tax breaks they'll receive for clearing a sale before Dec. 31, another reason for them to look favorably on a bid they might have passed up earlier in the year. Fall may not be the busiest season in the real estate calendar, but there are real deals to be found if you look hard.

Ready to Buy? Get Pre-Approved
If you're ready to take the plunge and become a homeowner, the first thing you need to do is get pre-approved for a mortgage. Pre-approval from your bank or other lender gives you more credibility with real estate agents, so they'll work harder for you if they know you can get your hands on the money to buy. Pre-approval also helps you narrow down your choices to make the hunt even simpler, since you'll know in advance how much "house" you can afford and how much money your bank will fork out on your behalf. Pre-approval is not a drawn-out process, but expect to spend a week or two working with your lender to get that magical pre-approval letter in hand before you head out to shop.

Find a Real Estate Agent
Meet with and discuss your situation with several real estate agents if necessary; don't just assume the first one you meet is the right one for you. Why does it matter? You want to be able to build rapport and work with your agent closely so that you not only feel comfortable while shopping, but you also have someone you trust in your corner, jockeying for you all the way through closing. All kinds of questions and issues are likely to come up along the way, and you need to be sure your agent is someone you can talk to easily and comfortably.

Fall is a good time to be shopping for real estate agents for the same reason that it's a good time to be shopping for a house. There are fewer buyers in the market, so you're likely to get more of your agent's time.

On the Hunt
Your real estate agent can help you find homes that meet your criteria, but only you can define what those criteria are. It's important to know what you want. A house is a huge investment, so determine in advance how many bedrooms/bathrooms you need, which neighborhoods you want to live in and which you want to shun, and how much it matters to you to be close to shopping, schools, and so forth. Once your realtor knows what you want, he or she can work to put you in a property that fits your needs. Your realtor can also tell you if your expectations are realistic, and you should listen even if you don't like what you're hearing. The realtor knows the market, and if a realtor is telling you that you probably won't get what you want, where you want it at the price you want to pay, you'll have to rearrange your criteria.

Making An Offer and Closing
Once you have selected the home of your dreams, you can make an offer on the property. You'll make the offer through your real estate agent. Fall is a great time to buy because there are fewer shoppers out there than there would be in summer, and sellers are motivated to make a deal. That means you're in a good position to negotiate, but you'll still have to negotiate to get that deal. If you find a property that suits your needs, consult your realtor and develop a strategy to get the price you want. The seller might still be offering a summer price, but some clever negotiating is likely to bring that down substantially.

If the client accepts your offer, your bank may order an inspection of the property before agreeing to write the loan. If everything looks good, the transaction will move to the closing process. Closing can take a bit of time. Don't expect the deal to go down in a matter of days. Most closings take several weeks, since your real estate agent will need to iron out the details, order deed research, and tend to other matters that require specialized legalese. Your real estate agent and the seller's agent will work together to determine who pays for what as far as closing costs or any agreed-upon repairs go, and your bank will process your down payment and work out the mortgage details, such as any points you get for paying more on the home.

The Post-Purchase Advantage
Most homebuyers find that they need to spend additional money to get their home ready for occupancy. In many cases, that involves significant purchases like appliances and furniture. Close a deal in the fall, and you will be shopping just in time for end-of-year sales that can save you substantial amounts of money!

The Last Word
Autumn home shopping lets you take advantage of the drop-off in buyer competition from the summer peak season and the added negotiating leverage you get from that. You're still buying a home, though, and the same cautions apply that you'd come up against in any other season. Beware of excessive enthusiasm. If you've fallen in love with a house, be careful. Love is blind in real estate as much as anywhere else, and you don't want to let enthusiasm distract you from potentially serious issues. Keep it in check and review a potential purpose carefully. It sometimes helps to ask a friend or relative to play "devil's advocate" and try to talk you out of the purchase just to bring out any issues you might overlook.

Winter comes after fall, and you will have limited time to make repairs and renovations, so pay particular attention to any seasonally relevant maintenance issues, like insulation gaps, exposed pipes, or other elements that could bring an unwelcome winter surprise. You'll want to discuss these with your home inspector and be sure to get a critical evaluation.

Fall is an ideal time for home shopping. There may be fewer properties on the market than there were in July, but the buying competition has dropped off even more, so you face less competition, and you can focus on the homes you want. Clarify your needs, find a good realtor, use that seasonal negotiating advantage to your favor, and you can welcome the winter holidays from the comfort and security of your own home!